November 10, 2016

The role of the Woodside Open Space COWmittee is to “advise and assist the Town Council, Planning Commission and staff in implementing the policies and goals of the Open Space and Conservation elements of the General Plan, specifically with respect to acquisition and maintenance of conservation easements and open space preservation.” Their goal is to enhance the open space system and the preservation and restoration of wildlife habitat. The COWmittee also makes recommendations on the acquisition and maintenance of open space and conservation easements typically requesting these from COWs who have applied to do construction on their own land. The COWmittee collaborates with Town governing bodies and other advisory committees on goals and projects of mutual interest, and with neighboring towns and regional entities in efforts to preserve scenic vistas, tracts of open space and wildlife habitat. Its responsibilities somewhat overlap with the Sustainability and Conservation COWmittee.

This 10 member COWmittee currently has three vacancies. As a result of the vacancies, the COWmittee sometimes fails to have a quorum and meeting have to be cancelled. The COWncil, in response to a request from the Open Space COWmittee kept the size of the COWmittee at ten members but defined a quorum as four members. We support in concept a smaller number present for purposes of a quorum to avoid delay but suspect that it will mean that a few overzealous members who will attend regularly will dominate the discussion.

We have written about this particular COWmittee before. We acknowledged them for some good work here. But more often, in their zeal to protect critters, they have shown a lack of concern for the property owners’ rights and safety, see here and here and here.

The COWncil not only did not engage in a real discussion of the role of this COWmittee. Nor did it look at the COWmittee structure. This Town has an awful lot of COWmittees which often have lots of vacancies. To the extent that applicants for approval have to appear before these COWmittees, the process is time consuming and an extra expense. When a meeting is delayed for lack of a quorum, it is an unfair inconvenience. Maybe there are so many vacancies because there are too many COWmittees which gives members too little sense that going to the meetings is important. We want to encourage public participation but this is not the way to do it.

The COWncil really should review all COWmittees. It should merge COWmittees with overlapping jurisdictions. Projects should not be reviewed by more than the ASRB and the Planning COWmission. (We would eliminate the ASRB also since its work is redundant.) Other COWmitees should advise on policy. A more focused approach would result in more real public participation and would reduce the frustration which the current system causes.

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